PARMIN

Funded by the European Commission under FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IEF-Marie Curie Actions

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Background

The focus of PARMIN (PARys MINerals) is the geomicrobiological analysis of minerals present in Parys Mountain (Mynydd Parys) mine in North Wales, once the biggest producer of copper in the UK. The mine has a fascinating history, extending some four thousand years to the Bronze Age. Further details regarding the mine and its history can be found on the website of the Parys Underground Group, or indeed here.

Previous microbiological investigations at the site were undertaken by the Bangor Acidophile Research Team (BART), the group focusing their analysis on the underground mine water at Parys. PARMIN will provide a more in-depth analysis of the microbial consortia and focus primarily on mineral substrata.

My initial visit to the site was on the evening of April 15th 2015, spending some three hours among some of the 27 km of passages that constitute Parys mine. My first mine experience and one which I will be repeating numerous times over the course of the project. Below are a few photos I managed to obtain with my phone, which as it turns out isn’t the best device to bring on a fieldtrip to an underground acidic mine. Over the course of the next 18 months, I hope to sample a variety of mineralogical substrata within the mine system and determine what influence substratum chemistry has on the resident microbial communities in this extreme environment. It is hoped that investigations will also lead to the isolation of heretofore uncultured taxa.

 

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Quarry Stope; where sparks are produced from pyrite by striking with a rock hammer

 

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Pisanite and/or melanterite, very similar secondary minerals produced as a result of the oxidation of pyrite.

 

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Above: What appears to be fungal biomass on a wall of one of the myriad of passages comprising Parys mine

 

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Fungus in enrichment of sample from Parys mine

 

Project highlights

Mineral sampling for the primary analyses concluded in December 2015, with a trip to Cae Coch mine (a sulphur mine) to provide additional samples for comparative purposes.

DNA from mineral samples was sent to collaborators at the EMP for sequencing. Initial sequences were returned and analysis begun, however some key samples in the dataset failed the initial process and had to be repeated.

Archaea were detected in enrichment cultures from Parys, with tRFLP (providing a more rapid turnaround than sequencing). Attempts to isolate these Archaea have to date been unsuccessful; plating on traditional (acidophile) and modified solid media resulted only in the growth of Bacteria, primarily displaying rod-like morphologies.  Attempts are ongoing to overcome this and finally get pure Archaea in culture. Sequencing results are guiding the sample selection to make this process easier, as Archaea are not present in abundance in all environments examined in Parys and indeed, as the analysis of sequence results shows, not abundant in the primary target site suspected of being Archaea-rich.

Isolation of a novel Sulfobacillus sp., so far displaying characteristics unusual for the genus.

Isolation of three strains, possibly representing two species of a known heterotrophic genus of actinobacteria never reported previously from an acid mine environment. Details to be released upon acceptance for publication.

PARMIN presented to the UK Geomicrobiology Network at the 2015 annual meeting (June) hosted by Bangor University.

The first conference introduction of PARMIN to the international scientific community at ISME16 in Montreal (August 2016), via the poster below. Varied interest in this work, with people asking questions not only about the mineralogy and prokaryotic communities, but also from those interested in the fungal components of these mineral communities, which are indeed present and very obvious in the mine

Geomicro Poster Bangor 2016

Some novel sample types underground in Mynydd Parys were sampled. These sample types have, to the best of our knowledge, not been analysed previously in such a setting and represent a first. More details will be provided upon acceptance for publication!

Two minerals never before recorded in Wales were amongst the mineral samples taken during the course of PARMIN and identified by XRD at the National Museum Wales by collaborator Dr Tom Cotterell.

Surprising results regarding the microbial diversity on mineral substrata from Mynydd Parys. Greater diversity than expected and definitely unexpected taxa, posing some interesting questions. More details upon publication.

 

 

 

 

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